Acts 1:6-8+Psalm 78:1-7+Romans 13:8-10+Matthew 22:23-33
What does a resurrection life look like? What will we look like? Will we have the same eye color or the same hair, will our bad knees and frustrating imperfections follow us into eternity?
Questions like these have been debated since the time of Jesus. When he came out of the tomb, some people didn’t even recognize him. He still bore the marks of the nails and the spear, according to some gospel accounts, anyway. If Paul is to be believed, we will be different. He writes in 1 Corinthians
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (15:51-52)
In this debate with the Sadducees that we read in Matthew today, Jesus is trying to make this point. “Y’all expect everything will be the same in the resurrection as it is now, and you’re just wrong,” he seems to say. It’s an odd thing to be thrown back into the time before the crucifixion, just after Jesus had entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. In Matthew, especially, this was a time of fierce debating with the religious leaders in the temple. He calls them whitewashed tombs, clean and pure on the outside and rotten within (Matthew 23:27-28). And it goes downhill from there.
The particular group we hear about this morning, the Sadducees, were one set of leaders in the Jewish hierarchy. They were responsible for the temple and generally were in the upper classes of the people. Once the temple is destroyed by Rome in the year 70, they pretty much disappear. But here, they are questioning Jesus about the resurrection, something they don’t believe in. And they want to know whether Levirate marriage continues in the resurrection. This type of marriage comes from Deuteronomy, and it required that if a brother dies without children, the next brother marries the widow, and their children are considered the children of the dead husband. And if the second husband dies without children, the next brother marries the widow. No, she had no say in the matter. It was all about protecting the land and who got to inherit it. If there were no children born to the firstborn son, then ownership of the land was at risk, so it was really important that any children born of this woman by other brothers in the family be considered heirs, children of the firstborn.
None of that matters in the resurrection, according to Jesus.
If we turn to our reading from Acts, Jesus is still walking with the disciples following the resurrection. We are now at almost the 40th day, the day he ascends into heaven. The Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. At the end of Luke, the ascension takes place, and this seems to be a short recap before we move on to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The arguments about what happens to all of us when the resurrection comes are irrelevant at this point, because there is only one resurrected being, and he is still speaking with his followers.
According to Luke-Acts, what he tells them in the end is, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And that is what they do. What the resurrected life looked like for them was to be sent beyond their known world, their comfort zone, into the regions beyond to tell of Jesus and his love.
In most churches today, the reading is actually from the end of John. True confession: I was a little annoyed that I did not get to preach on one of my favorite stories of redemption. The scene is a beach on the shores of Lake Tiberias, also known as Galilee. Seven of the disciples were out fishing in the night and didn’t catch anything. A man calls to them from the shore to try throwing the nets to the other side. They did not recognize this man at first, but when they brought in so many fish they could hardly haul it into the boat, Peter jumped into the water, recognizing that it was Jesus.
And on the beach, Jesus breaks bread and shares fish cooked over the fire. And then comes that moment of redemption. Three times, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus, and three times, Jesus gives him a chance to try again.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
And three times, Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” (John 21:15-19)
And Jesus tells him what that demands of him: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me. (John 21:15-19)
That is what a resurrected life looks like. No one knows what it will be on the other side of the grave, but for now, once you have seen the risen Lord, there is no going back. We spend our lives caring for God’s people as a shepherd tends the flock, and we follow wherever Jesus leads.
In my newsletter essay this week, I posed the question, “If All Saints disappeared tomorrow, would this community miss us?”
If we are doing as Jesus taught the disciples, leading resurrection lives, then the answer is a resounding “yes.”
We have seen the risen Jesus. And now we follow where he continues to lead all the people of God into the regions beyond.